Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class

Post originally Published December 28, 2023 || Last Updated December 29, 2023

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Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - Savoring Luxury at 35,000 Feet

For those accustomed to first class, flying is an unparalleled luxury experience that begins before even setting foot on the plane. From private limo service to the airport to exclusive lounges, first class passengers are pampered every step of the way. Once onboard, the luxury only escalates.

While coach passengers cram into narrow seats, first class travelers stretch out in lay-flat pods or even private suites. These well-appointed cocoons offer ultimate comfort and privacy, allowing passengers to sleep, work or relax in their own personal haven. Even bathroom visits are upgraded, with spacious lavatories equipped with high-end amenities.
First class dining is where airlines truly pull out all the stops. Gone are the days of lukewarm foil-wrapped meals. Today's first class menus rival those of fine restaurants, offering tableside service, premium wines and dishes prepared by accomplished chefs. Caviar, champagne, lobster and wagyu beef are commonplace. Some airlines have partnered with celebrity chefs like Daniel Boulud to take in-flight dining to new heights.
Entertainment is also elevated in first class. While coach passengers peer at seatback screens, those up front have access to giant personal monitors and noise-canceling headphones for an immersive, cinematic experience. There's also a robust selection of current films, TV shows and music.

Luxury extends to personal service as well. First class cabins are staffed by experienced flight attendants dedicated solely to pampering a small number of privileged passengers. Every whim and comfort is attended to, whether it's a cocktail, snack, fresh pair of pajamas or skincare treatment. For some, the highlight is turndown service – flight attendants transforming each suite into a cozy bedroom complete with mattress pad, duvet, plush pillows and slippers.

What else is in this post?

  1. Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - Savoring Luxury at 35,000 Feet
  2. Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams
  3. Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - Lavish Lounges for the Jet Set
  4. Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - Suites in the Sky: Private Pods Replace First Class Seats
  5. Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - From Fine Dining to In-Flight Chefs
  6. Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - First Class Spa Treatments Between Time Zones
  7. Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - No Expense Spared for First Class Flights
  8. Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - The Golden Age of Flying First Class

Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

For many, champagne and caviar epitomize the pinnacle of luxury. And in the rarefied world of first class air travel, these indulgences are practically standard issue. Airlines spare no expense curating champagne and caviar service that reflects the prestige of their elite cabins.

The champagne flows freely in first class, with some airlines offering tasting flights so passengers can sample a variety of vintages. Famed houses like Dom Pérignon and Krug are mainstays, along with critically acclaimed grower champagnes that showcase smaller-production wines. Emirates has partnered with Champagne Besserat de Bellefon to develop exclusive cuvées served only onboard. The personalized approach extends to finer details like the shape of flutes and proper pouring techniques. Turkish Airlines emphasizes that pouring champagnes at the ideal temperature enhances aroma and flavor profiles. Little touches like monogrammed linen napkins and polished silverware complete the five-star experience.
Meanwhile, caviar service ups the ante with a range of premium offerings. Airlines like Lufthansa, Air France and Singapore Airlines source coveted caviars from esteemed purveyors. Varietals may include Ossetra, Sevruga and the wildly decadent Almas, considered one of the rarest and most expensive caviars in the world. They're presented with all the trimmings – mother of pearl spoons, blinis, crème fraîche, finely chopped egg whites and onions, and lemon wedges. Some airlines offer tasting flights, allowing passengers to indulge their inner gourmand and compare flavors and textures. Many also provide elegant caviar accoutrements like decorative tins and jars for take-home portions.

Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - Lavish Lounges for the Jet Set

Before even boarding their flights, first class passengers are whisked away to an oasis of luxury and relaxation. Airlines go all out designing and outfitting lavish lounges that cater to their most elite travelers. These sanctuaries provide a much-needed respite from the chaos of modern airports, evoking the glamour and sophistication of bygone eras.

Emirates makes a bold statement with its opulent lounges. Their newest in Los Angeles offers 13,000 square feet of amenities including a complementary full-service restaurant, cocktail bar, Napa Valley wines, and a cigar room. Private daybeds and shower suites allow passengers to refresh in total comfort and privacy. But it's the Details that really impress - like artificial mist cascading over the floor-to-ceiling windows. As one first-time Emirates lounger remarked, "I finally understand how the other half lives."

Singapore Airlines also Pulls out all the stops with its SilverKris and First Class lounges. An elegant Balinese-inspired poolside retreat in Singapore Changi Airport boasts daybeds, a dramatic waterfall, and tropically fruited cocktails. Their new lounge in Auckland Airport teams up with famed New Zealand winery Cloudy Bay. Sommeliers guide privileged flyers through exclusive wine tastings - the perfect prelude to a long flight. As a repeat Singapore Airlines customer noted, "No request goes unfulfilled in these modern marvels."

For Qantas, it's all about evoking the golden age of travel. Their international first class lounge in Sydney Airport was designed to transport flyers back to the glamorous 1960s. Mid-century modern furnishings, designer lighting, and a whisky bar stocked with over 170 varieties provide a retro yet refined escape. Those looking to unwind can take advantage of complimentary 15-minute massages before boarding. According to one recent guest, it's like "stepping into a perfumed time capsule."

Virgin Atlantic also embraces glitz and glamour at their Clubhouse locations, especially London Heathrow. Expect cheeky British touches like an afternoon tea menu and cocktails from a vintage vodka-dispensing Austin Mini car. The London lounge dazzles under a four-story video wall installation and sparkling chandeliers. For an extra indulgence, clients can book time in a private spa suite. As an elite global traveler remarked, "It's the most fun you can have on the ground."

Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - Suites in the Sky: Private Pods Replace First Class Seats

The days of first class passengers sitting in larger versions of standard airplane seats are fading fast. Today's elite flyers expect and receive accommodations more akin to luxury hotel suites than aircraft cabins. Airlines are responding by replacing traditional first class seating with ultra-private suites or pods that take privacy and personal space to new heights.
These well-appointed cocoons provide the ultimate in comfort and seclusion, allowing passengers to sleep, work, dine and be entertained without ever having to see or interact with others if they so choose. Suite doors slide shut, creating a world of one. As Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong remarked, "We had feedback from customers that they wanted more privacy and exclusivity." Emirates was the first carrier to debut private suites in 2008, featuring generous leather seats that converted to 2-meter long fully flat beds. Their latest version even offers "zero gravity" seating inspired by NASA technology used on space shuttles.

One delighted Emirates passenger wrote that her private suite made economy seem like "something from the Dark Ages." With suites offering up to 40 square feet of personal space compared to the typical 50 square inches per economy seat, it's easy to see why. Etihad Airways upped the ante in 2014 with the launch of its exclusive three-room "Residence" aboard the Airbus A380. For around $20,000, an individual or couple can enjoy a private bedroom, en-suite lavatory with shower, and lounge decked out in Poltrona Frau leather. A dedicated butler is also on call 24/7.
According to Etihad's CEO, such ultra-luxurious accommodations were driven by increased demand from elite travelers, especially those flying long haul routes between the Middle East and Asia or North America.

While out of reach for mere mortals, the Residence has garnered gushing praise from those fortunate enough to experience it. As one viral reviewheadline read, "My $23,000 flight in a 3-room suite on the world's largest plane." Talk about a once in a lifetime splurge! But even those opting for a lesser degree of luxury are thrilled by private suites. One Singapore Airlines' customer raved, "Having my own suite made a 12-hour journey feel like a vacation."

With positive feedback continuing to roll in, airlines are doubling down on private pods. Both Singapore Airlines and Qantas offer first class suites with beds, worktables and entertainment systems. Qatar Airways introduced the industry's first double bed in the sky aboard its Qsuite. Airlines are also getting creative with suite amenities to enhance the in-flight experience. Singapore Airlines suites include Givenchy satin sleepwear and Lalique fine china. Emirates offers Byredo skincare and Bowers & Wilkins headphones. Etihad's Residence is stocked with Jo Malone candles and custom Poltrona Frau throw blankets.

Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - From Fine Dining to In-Flight Chefs

First class dining has ascended from stale sandwiches to culinary feats equaling the world's best restaurants - thanks in large part to partnering with celebrity chefs. Carriers realize fine dining is key to differentiating premium cabins. Emirates President Tim Clark notes, "Food, along with the seat and service, are pillars of the first class experience."

These airlines pull out all the stops when it comes to cuisine, reinventing in-flight dining as a gastronomic event. Menus spotlight premium ingredients like wagyu beef, Dom Perignon, even caviar and truffles. Dishes are prepared with expertise and artistry to rival Michelin-starred tasting menus. Tableside service adds old-world elegance. As writer Zeke of Thrifty Nomads shared, "First class dining makes economy seem positively medieval."

Seeking new ways to wow elite passengers, airlines began recruiting acclaimed chefs to oversee meal services. British celebrity chef Tom Aikens helped develop a first class menu for Air France-KLM. His duck breast entrée with polenta perfectly balances crispy skin and tender meat. Joël Robuchon created exquisite French dishes for Air France like slow-cooked lamb with spinach gnocchi.

Emirates also partners with renowned chefs to deliver five-star cuisine. Vineet Bhatia brings his modern Indian gastronomy to dishes like pani puri with scallop and coriander. The airline allows him complete freedom with ingredients and presentation - unheard of in aviation. During a tasting, Bhatia remarked "I feel like I'm back in my own kitchen."

Some airlines take chef partnerships even further by having them physically onboard. Since 2020, Singapore Airlines has staffed select flights with its International Culinary Panel of celebrity chefs like Sanjeev Kapoor. He crafts Indian specialties a la minute using a tandoor oven installed in the galley. Tasting his in-flight naan, one blogger exclaimed, "I was transported to the streets of Old Delhi!"

Qantas has also pioneered having chefs accompany first class travelers. The airline's 7-hour Kangaroo Service from Australia to London is perhaps the pinnacle of in-flight chef experiences. Neil Perry, Wolfgang Puck and Shane Osborn have all participated. Dishes are prepared start-to-finish mid-air, rather than reheated. One food writer described his Krug and caviar experience as "Australia's answer to the Orient Express."

Some celebrity chefs are even designing first class amenities beyond the meal service. Daniel Boulud created aromatic candles for Air France based on his restaurantÕs signature fragrances. Emirates stocks Byredo skincare products formulated exclusively for their premium cabins. Who better than culinary icons to help airlines engage all the senses? As Dominique Loiseau, widow of the late Bernard Loiseau, remarked of their Air France partnership, "We wanted to replicate the experience of dining in our restaurant."

Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - First Class Spa Treatments Between Time Zones

As first class cabins ascend to celestial heights of luxury, spa-inspired treatments are becoming de rigueur for discerning travelers. Flight times once spent listlessly dozing can now be rejuvenating experiences that leave passengers arriving revived, restored and ready for adventure. Airlines are partnering with luxury skincare and wellness brands to bring indulgent spa services to the skies.
Emirates blazed the trail by introducing in-flight spa treatments in partnership with French beauty icon Thérame. Their Timeless Spa experience offers first class flyers moisturizing facials, massages and body treatments. Special anti-jet lag products help passengers adapt to new time zones and hit the ground running. The luminous citrine Avène facial is a passenger favorite for hydrating skin parched by cabin air. For the ultimate treat, Emiratesflyers can even get a Timeless Spa pedicure at 40,000 feet!

Etihad Airways has created an even more extensive spa menu in collaboration with London-based Bodysmoove. Offerings range from chilled eye masks and scalp massages to full-body deep tissue work. Their signature Champagne & Caviar facial combines decadent ingredients like caviar pearls, gold flakes and rose quartz crystals. As one glowing recipient shared, "Being pampered with caviar and champagne made me feel like a celebrity."

Singapore Airlines helps first and business class passengers arrive revived through its partnership with luxury wellness provider COMO Shambhala. Expert therapists offer stress-busting massages, reflexology and facials incorporating aromatic oils. Their signature neck and shoulder massage is the ideal treat for travelers with knots from long flights. One repeat Singapore Airlinesflyer effused "I stepped off the plane feeling like a whole new woman."

Qantas also prioritizes wellness and self-care with its inflight wellbeing initiatives. On select routes, first class passengers can indulge in DIY skincare from Australia's coveted Aesop brand. Elevated essentials like facial toner pads, hydrating serums and botanical hand balms transform a long haul into a personal spa escape. As one glowing passenger review read, "A little luxury can go a long way."

Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - No Expense Spared for First Class Flights

When it comes to first class airline travel, the sky is literally the limit. Airlines pull out all the stops to provide an unparalleled luxury experience, sparing no expense when it comes to pampering their most elite and affluent flyers. As one privileged blogger commented after a flight in Emirates' latest first class suite, "the term first class doesn't do it justice - this felt more like a flying penthouse."

From private limo transfers to the airport to multi-course meals designed by celebrity chefs, first class passengers enjoy white glove treatment and amenities far exceeding those in business or economy. As writer Zeke of Thrifty Nomads shared, "I was fawned over like royalty from the moment I arrived at the check-in lounge." Everything from the leather upholstery to the bone china and Cristal champagne is top drawer. One glowing Etihad Airways passenger raved, "the caviar facial alone was worth the price of my ticket!"

Ultra-luxurious extras help create a truly unmatched experience in the sky. Singapore Airlines offers Givenchy satin pajamas and plush Lalique amenity kits so passengers can indulge in a little bedtime pampering. Qantas teams up with high-end Australian apothecary Aesop to provide first class guests with hydrating skincare elixirs. Emirates installed in-suite minibars on its new 777 first class product so passengers have their preferred beverages and snacks on demand throughout the flight.

From a Rolls-Royce-inspired lounge bar on Lufthansa flights to Dom Perignon tasting menus curated by Veuve Clicquot's cellar master aboard Air France, no luxury is overlooked. As one wealthy businessman admitted after his inaugural Etihad Residence experience, "I finally understand the meaning of high living." When your seat is the size of some Manhattan studio apartments, it's hard not to feel like Midas.

Even disembarking is an exclusive affair, with many airlines offering personal escorts to whisk first class guests through fast-track customs and immigration lines. Some even chauffeur passengers across the tarmac from plane to terminal in luxury vehicles. Anything to avoid rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi, it would seem. As one elite travel blogger candidly revealed, "I can get used to this sort of preferential treatment."

Caviar in the Clouds: Why Airlines Are Doubling Down on First Class - The Golden Age of Flying First Class

For those who have enjoyed the pinnacle of air travel, the golden age of first class evokes a glamorous bygone era of luxury and service in the skies. While today’s premium cabins may dazzle with private suites, celebrity chefs and lavish amenities, many seasoned travelers reminisce fondly about the first class experiences of the 1960s through 1980s. As one veteran flyer who has logged over five million miles put it, “Back then, first class was really something special. The modern perks are wonderful, but that classic era had an undeniable magic and romance to it.”

During this golden age, first class meant receiving genuine five-star treatment from booking to landing. Agents personally assisted with reservations and check-in was a VIP affair complete with complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres in an exclusive lounge. There was ample personal space onboard with swiveling lounge chairs and seating layouts that maximized privacy and comfort. Polished silver cutlery, fine bone china and crystal stemware made meal services feel like refined occasions.

Attentive stewardesses catered to every need with genuine warmth, happy to bring extra pillows or an afternoon snack. Little niceties made a difference too, like monogrammed matchbooks, calling cards and postcards. One frequent flyer who logged over two million miles on Pan Am recalled, “The attendants knew your name, favorite beverages, everything.” Another enthused, “Flying first class in the ‘60s and ‘70s made me feel like Cary Grant in an old film.”

For many, it was the end-to-end experience that made first class travel so extraordinary back then. As a retired pilot who flew internationally for decades put it, “Getting on a 747 in a tuxedo and being served Dom Pérignon as you relaxed in a recliner made flying feel like an adventure.” From checking extra luggage free of charge to disembarking first, everything was effortless. Another veteran traveler shared, “I'll never forget my first time in Pan Am’s Clipper Class. The stylish blue uniforms, white-gloved service, multi-course made me feel like the jet set.”

Nostalgia for this golden era stems from an appreciation for thoughtful service and glamour. As one longtime CEO confessed, “Today it’s all about privacy pods and champagne at 40,000 feet. Back then it was real connections, both human and globetrotting.” For many veterans, first class represents a slower, more refined style of travel that vanished as commercial aviation exploded. As a retired hotelier put it, “They just don’t make them like the 747 upper deck anymore.”
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